Health Matters

A no brainer – keeping our brain young

A no brainer is something that requires little effort. When we are young little effort usually goes into thinking about keeping our brain young! As our body ages though other organs, including our brain grow old. The brain is a very important organ, so much so that it is protected by our skull. The brain needs to keep functioning in tip-top shape as it runs our body and controls everything we do, even when asleep.

While I said it is a no brainer to keep our brain young it does take some brain power and effort to look after ourselves. If we look after our brain, our brain will look after us. Looking after our brain does not help if we are couch potatoes, lying around and expecting our body to work. I am referring to those who are able-bodied. But what about those who are in a wheelchair and do a lot of sitting around? It is a different story altogether!

One person with an amazing life story who is not as able-bodied as others is Kurt Fearnley. He is my favourite Australian wheel-chair athlete and a three-time Paralympic Gold Medallist. Kurt is not just an athlete who gets around in or out of a wheelchair, he is a powerhouse of energy, motivation and inspiration. Even though he was born without the lower part of his spine this has not held him back in life. He gets plenty of physical exercise, mental stimulation and to live the way he does he would have to have a healthy diet. These are three ways we can keep our brain young as we age – physical exercise, mental stimulation and a healthy diet.

Mental stimulation keeps the synapses in our brain working and connected. Mental stimulation can include reading, researching a topic, doing crosswords or puzzles, or learning something new. When I was younger I would laugh when explaining my exercise routine to friends. My main form of exercise was mental gymnastics. It all happened in my brain – no regular physical exercise for me! But times change and I have grown older and I need to exercise. I must keep my body healthy and I need regular physical exercise.

Getting physical can help our brains be more efficient and adaptive. Exercise lowers blood pressure, improves cholesterol levels and is good for our cardiovascular functioning. Also, it just makes you feel good. Even my chickens love getting out of their coop and exercising. Hanging greens such as kale or spinach on a piece of string keeps chickens amused and moving. Just like me I am happier when I am amused and moving, except when I am cleaning the house – just finished that task an hour ago!

Physical exercise keeps the brain young

Keeping our brain young helps if we are not overweight. Keeping our weight under control helps improve blood pressure. I have experimented with exercise to control my blood pressure. I find that good diet and exercise makes a difference.

There are medicines that we can take to control our blood pressure, cholesterol and help us sleep. But how much better if we can take the necessary steps and keep these all under control without having to step inside a pharmacy.

There are other ways to keep our brains young and healthy and tobacco is off the menu! Younger people who are fit and healthy and smoke cigarettes don’t think too much about the future. There is not too much thought about ageing. If they continue to smoke into old age it will take longer for the body to bounce back to good health. Good health and smoking tobacco don’t go hand in hand.

Similarly, too much alcohol is not good for us. Alcohol can damage the brain and too many drinks over the years can cause alcohol dementia. Next time I lift that wine glass to my lips I will have to think about this! A little wine is good for us and there are studies which show that low-dose alcohol may reduce the risk of dementia in older people. Excessive consumption of alcohol may cause cognitive decline and dementia. Note, the research says “may” and more evidence is required. Nonetheless, to keep on the safe side it is probably wise to have a few days a week alcohol free so the brain can take a rest and recover!

Another way to keep our brain young is to by having a good night’s sleep. Exercise helps us sleep better and this is something I have found to work. Working on the computer, like I did the other night for hours before bed did not give me a good night’s sleep. Lack of sleep robs our energy and can affect our immune system. Preparation for sleep can help. Preparation can include, allowing a few hours between eating and bedtime, no caffeine, no screen time and no bright lights in the last hour before going to bed. Lowering the lights gets the chemical melatonin in our system flowing and prepares us for sleep. We begin to feel drowsy and this is the perfect time to toddle off to bed! What about you? Do you have a bedtime wind-down routine?

I want to keep my brain young so I am on a quest to make sure I take steps to do this. My mental stimulation is at work writing this blog. I read all types of interesting articles when researching different topics. Not only does it add to my knowledge but it is healthy for my brain. A step in the right direction to reduce my risk of memory loss. Time to do some shopping. Now, where did I put those car keys!

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